Is there really such a thing as an anabolic window? Is whey protein the only protein that can be used to build muscle? Will drinking protein shakes turn you into the Incredible Hulk? As with anything in the fitness industry, there are a lot of myths circulating surrounding the benefits and efficacy of protein powder. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the information coming at you from friends, Instagram influencers, and random people at your gyms, read on for some no-nonsense information about what’s true and what’s false.
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One of the biggest myths out there has to do with the idea that you need to consume protein within a 30-minute period following your workout in order to maximize your muscle growth.
Professional bodybuilders and powerlifters might see some benefits from consuming protein shortly after their workout ends. But, for the average gym-goer, research shows that you don’t need to get stressed out about drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of your workout .
Instead, your main goal should simply be to consume an adequate amount of protein throughout the day — for the record, that’s about 1.3-1.8 grams per kilogram (.5-.8 grams per pound) of body weight .
Protein powder can be a convenient and efficient option for helping people ensure they’re consuming an adequate amount of protein each day. If you don’t have time to cook a meal, drinking a protein shake is certainly better than heading to the drive-through.
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That being said, you definitely don’t need protein powder to meet your protein requirement and/or gain muscle. Many people get confused when it comes to protein supplements (and all supplements, for that matter) and forget that these products are meant to supplement their diet, not stand in as a replacement for high-quality, nutrient-dense foods.
In fact, the more protein you can get from high-quality, whole food sources, the better off you’ll be. In addition to getting other essential nutrients that your body needs for optimal health, you’re also most likely going to feel more satisfied if you eat a meal comprised of whole, protein-rich foods.
Since they’re typically the most concerned about gaining muscle, it’s usually weightlifters who talk the most about consuming adequate protein. That doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who need to worry about their protein intake, though.
Everybody, including endurance athletes, should be doing their best to consume a sufficient amount of protein. In fact, endurance athletes face a great risk of muscle breakdown than other athletes, so they need to be especially conscious of their protein consumption.
It’s important to keep in mind the fact that protein does a lot more than just help us pick up heavy things and look jacked.
Protein is an essential macronutrient, meaning our bodies need it to survive. Protein plays a major role in several of the body’s functions, including:
- Organ repair and maintenance
- Enable and speed up metabolism and other biochemical reactions
- Hormone creation and regulation
- Molecule transportation and storage
- Regulation of cell division
- Formation of infection-fighting antibodies
As you can see, if you want to stay healthy, your protein consumption does matter.
Now that we’ve covered the importance of getting enough protein, it’s also worth noting that it is, in fact, possible to consume too much protein.
A lot of people in the fitness world promote consuming up to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For a 150 pound women, for example, that would mean she’s consuming 300 grams of protein per day! That’s simply too much.
First of all, your body can only handle so much protein. Generally speaking, anything above .5-.8 grams per pound of bodyweight (which would be about 75-120 grams for the hypothetical 150-pound woman mentioned above) is either going to be excreted through your urine or stored as fat .
If your body is constantly excreting excess protein, you’re also more likely to be dehydrated and experience poor kidney function, especially if you already suffer from kidney disease.
Some people believe that, as long as they’re eating lots of protein, they don’t have to worry about gaining weight. It’s important to remember, though, that unless you’re consuming fewer calories overall, it doesn’t matter where they’re coming from.
It’s true that protein increases feelings of satiety, or fullness, following a meal. Because it’s satiating, you may be less likely to overeat if you’re consuming a sufficient amount of protein.
However, a high-protein diet that doesn’t also take total calories into account is not going to yield the weight loss you’re hoping for. Remember, if you add more protein to your diet, you’ll also need to take away some carbohydrates or fat to compensate.
When it comes to protein powders, whey protein is often touted as the best option. While whey protein is an easy-to-digest option that is good for muscle recovery and immune system function, it’s not ideal for everyone.
Since it digests quickly, you might not find it very satiating. People who are lactose intolerant also typically cannot consume whey protein without experiencing digestive problems. It’s also not suitable for vegans since it is made from milk.
Some alternative protein powders that can be used instead of whey protein include:
- Casein protein powder (also made from milk)
- Egg white protein powder
- Brown rice or pea protein powder
- Beef protein isolate
Whatever type of protein powder you decide to use (if you decide you even need one), it’s important to make sure you’re investing in a high-quality protein powder. The grocery store shelf is stuffed with a variety of powders, and it can be daunting to try and decide which one will work best for you.
Once you’ve decided on the type of protein you need (whey, casein, pea, etc.), keep these tips in mind to help you choose the right brand:
- Look for a protein with minimal ingredients: The fewer the ingredients, the better. Protein powders are often stuffed with sugar, artificial sweeteners, and fillers that aren’t good for you digestive system.
- Remember you get what you pay for: Accept that a high-quality protein powder that doesn’t contain a bunch of fillers is going to set you back more than a cheap powder.
- But, expensive doesn’t always mean good: That being said, don’t just buy the most expensive powder on the shelf, either. Read the label.
You should also do some research online to learn more about a particular brand before investing in their product. A recent study found that over 100 of the most popular protein powders contain large amounts of heavy metals like arsenic and lead.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the information floating around regarding protein powder and protein consumption. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as people make it, though. Just remember the six myths that were debunked above, and you’ll be good to go!
- Schoenfeld, Brad Jon, et al. “The Effect of Protein Timing on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy: a Meta-Analysis.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, BioMed Central, 3 Dec. 2013, jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-53.
- Phillips, S M, and L J Van. “Dietary Protein for Athletes: from Requirements to Optimum Adaptation.” Journal of Sports Sciences., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 9 Dec. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425.
- High dietary protein intake is associated with an increased body weight and total death risk
Hernandez-Alonso P., Salas-Salvado J., et al. Clinical Nutrition., April (2016), www.doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2015.03.016